Eva Hielscher was the 2008 Fellowship Recipient. She is both a film archivist and a film scholar. We recently had a chance to catch up with Eva and find out about life post Fellowship.
PRO-TEK: What have you been doing since PRO-TEK?
EH: After my studies in Germany and the Netherlands, I worked as a film archivist and assistant-curator at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Besides EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Sound and Vision is the second major national film and television archive in Holland. Last year, I left the archive to start my PhD research at Ghent University in Belgium, hence, both of my titles. Technically, I am now a PhD candidate. However, I see my film historical research and my profession (and passion!) as a film archivist inseparably connected as both influence one another and I wouldn’t want to do the one without the other.
PRO-TEK: Which tasks did you carry out in your five years at the archive of Sound and Vision?
EH: I was partly responsible for Sound and Vision’s nitrate film collection. The collection consists of approximately 11,000 film cans with roughly 900 hours of film material from the 1910’s to the early 1950’s: Newsreels, early non-fiction, items about the Dutch royal family, company films, city films, images from the Dutch colonies, promotional films, animation, scientific and educational films. The collection is stored in a bunker from World War II in the dunes near The Hague that was transformed into a film archive with work stations, an office and four nitrate film vaults in the early 1980’s.
The main project I worked on was the preservation and digitization of the nitrate film collection within the project “Images for the Future” that Sound and Vision executed together with three other Dutch partner institutions between 2007 and 2014. Initially, we started with both analogue duplication and digitization but in the course of the project, we had to step over to digitization only. Within this project, I worked on a variety of different tasks – from the inventory and cataloguing of the collection over physical inspection, viewing and film reparations to the writing of a tender, the planning of the project (including logistics), the supervision of lab work and quality control. In the last year at Sound and Vision, I then worked on an acquisition project of Dutch documentary film collections, which included a variety of different elements and formats.
PRO-TEK: What led you back to school to pursue a PhD?
EH: I started my PhD research at Ghent University last year that focuses on city symphonies – experimental city films of the 1920’s and 1930’s. More precisely, I am investigating the film history writing of the city symphony films and its interrelation with the film archives. My objective is: to combine the written history of city symphonies with the archival and physical history of these films (including preservation, restoration, multiple versions and accessibility) and see how both influenced one another. For example, it is striking that authors writing about city symphonies almost always refer to Walther Ruttmann’s 1927 film Berlin – Symphony of a Great City and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera from 1929 while dozens of other films fell into oblivion and received little or no attention. How did this come about and what role do archives have in the safeguarding of historical films? These are the questions I am dealing with.
PRO-TEK: How do you apply what you learned at PRO-TEK in the job that you are/were doing today?
EH: I especially remember using a Lipsner-Smith film cleaning machine for the first time in my life. I was in Burbank and L.A. just after the fire on the back lot of Universal Studios in 2008, and I will never forget the sooty-smoky smell of film prints that were spared by the flames and had to be cleaned at PRO-TEK. Apart from this, Joe Caracappa (current PRO-TEK Film Inspection Technician) patiently spent hour after hour in film inspection with me, going through all different kinds of possible and imaginable film damages. (I have always been fascinated by the physical history of a film element, including damages and what had caused them.
When I was working with the nitrate film collection at Sound and Vision, I extensively used what I had learned about film inspection at PRO-TEK. I could also apply my knowledge about climate control and vault environment when we had to overhaul and ‘upgrade’ the nitrate vaults. That know-how was extremely useful and valuable.
In my current job as a researcher my approach to film history and film research in general are all attributable to PRO-TEK. I take film archiving, preservation, and restoration as research objects themselves, and ask how they influence and contribute to film history writing and our understanding of cinema and a particular film. For instance, what we have in mind when discussing Walther Ruttmann’s famous Berlin film is to a great extent (co) shaped by the work of film archives, film preservation, and restoration facilities. This starts with proper storage conditions including vault environment, film handling and film cleaning – all the things I learned hands-on at PRO-TEK.
During my internship, part of my education, in addition to film inspection was spending a day (or two) with Rick Utley (PRO-TEK Vice President) talking to me about film preservation and restoration in Hollywood and the studios. Coming from Europe where film preservation is very much in the hands of non-profit (national) film archives, it was very interesting to learn about the differences and the market-driven approach to preservation in Hollywood. By starting from his own experiences, Rick gave me a first-hand overview about the history of film preservation in Hollywood and the changes and challenges caused by digital technology. I always wanted to put the ideas and thoughts Rick’s account provoked, in a research project on the history of film restoration in both Hollywood and Europe… I’ll keep that for my postdoc.
PRO-TEK: Why was/is your archive important (why does your company think it is important)?
EH: Sound and Vision is important as a national television and non-fiction film archive of the Netherlands. As I said earlier, in Holland there are two major national audio-visual archives: EYE Film Institute Netherlands (the former Film museum), which focuses mainly on film as film art in the context of cinema history; and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision as both television and film archive that approaches film as a historical source. In this regard, it is important as a provider of footage to TV-stations, to researchers of the creative industry as well as to academics, students and the general public (in terms of collective memory). Besides film and TV, the institute also has a collection of radio programmes, music, video, amateur film, photographs and objects related to the history of television and broadcasting.
We would like to thank Eva for her time and participation in our 20th anniversary celebration.